Nicole Garay, the artist behind Sola Ceramics, grew up watching her family make art. With grandparents and great-grandparents who paint and draw, a father who is a pen and ink artist, a mother who does oil painting and other artisans in the family, Garay had no shortage of inspiration. After she graduated from college, a few members of the family produced a group show in Santa Barbara called “Familia.” “I want my kids to soak in art just like I did when I was growing up,” Garay said. “I grew up around a lot of art, so I had an awareness that art could be a profession.”
Garay started learning ceramic art at Carpinteria High School with Lorie Stout, a beloved teacher who has taught many young artists in Carpinteria how to use the wheel. “She gave me a solid foundation in clay, but it was really when I went to SBCC before UCSB that I learned the techniques and developed technical skills with the amazing instructors there,” Garay said. “After that, at UCSB, I gained the conceptual tools to approach my work.”
After graduating from UCSB as an art major with an emphasis in ceramics, Garay participated in art shows and local festivals before moving to New Mexico for a few years. She lived in a small village on the High Road from Santa Fe to Taos and worked as an artist’s assistant. “I learned a lot about freedom of creativity from (those artists) and others during that time,” Garay said.
When she became a mother, Garay took a break from ceramic art to focus on her family. Six years ago, when her kids were a little older, she had time to go back to her craft. “Even though I took a break, I never fully stopped,” Garay explained. “If you’re a maker, you can’t ever really quit. When the girls grew up, I had the time and I made more time for myself. I think it’s good to have the girls see me do this just like I grew up with art in my life.”
At UCSB, when she was exploring different mediums, Garay focused on sculptural and conceptual pieces. Now, her busy and functional life results in functional pieces. “I make things like mugs, plates, platters, dishes and berry bowls,” Garay said. “I try to work with textures and patterns that are fun and funky to add a little joy to my, and hopefully others’, busy life. Beautiful and colorful pieces to make your everyday a little more fun.”
Sola Ceramics is named after Garay’s two daughters Sophia and Lila. It’s a combination of their first names and a testament to the uniqueness of her crafts. “Everybody’s work is unique to them. I draw from what my interests are,” Garay said. “I make things I want to have or find useful. I love my Hispanic culture, so I started a Luchador series that just makes me smile. I’m not a production potter, I’m an independent potter, and my work is my therapy so I’m going to do what I want to do!”
Garay is drawn to the tactile aspect of ceramic construction. When she throws her creations on the wheel, she is able to meditate. “You have to clear your mind and breathe and let go and pay attention to where the clay is taking you,” Garay said. “It’s very therapeutic and I think everyone needs an outlet that helps them put everything aside.”
Garay has also been working on hand building ceramics, a slow but fruitful process. “It takes an enormous amount of patience, which does not come naturally to me, but the challenge has been awesome,” Garay said. “I can achieve textures that I cannot replicate on the wheel-thrown pieces.”
Garay grew up in Carpinteria and attended school in the area before later coming back as an adult. The Carpinteria community has been an integral aspect of Garay’s life since the beginning. “At the last show I did, so many old friends from school came by to say hi and were so encouraging about my work,” Garay said. “It made me feel super connected to my work. Being a part of the Carpinteria culture is just amazing.”
Right now, Garay is mostly selling in local markets and she plans to set up an Etsy shop this year to sell small batch pieces. In the near future, she will be at the pop-up makers markets at the end of Maple Avenue put on by PacWest Blooms. Down the road, she hopes to participate again at the monthly showings at the Carpinteria Arts Center. To learn more, find Garay on Instagram at @sola_ceramics.